Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik spoke with Pewter Report about NFL free agency with the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) at the start of NFL free agency on March 5. The NFL is in negotiations with the NFL Players Union on an extension, but many believe a new CBA is unlikely before the start of free agency this year.
With the expiration of the current CBA, there will no longer be a salary cap or a salary floor that teams must meet. Dominik outlined the Bucs' stance in pursuing players in the open market. A lot of the prime free agents with regards to age and talent will not hit the open market, and Dominik said he does not expect Tampa Bay to be chasing the top free agents.
"I think the best way to look at it is kind of how I talked about in the past of how we are going to do it here," Dominik said. "We are going to build through the draft. That is our number one focus. That is our number one drive. Because of that and where we are at, we have the ability to do a lot of different things in the draft. In that capacity there is going to be a lot of committed cash to the draft this year. If you decide to move up or decide to move back and accumulate extra picks those are also contracts. That is a lot of money in those contracts. That's not a small deal. That is the direction we are going to head through.
"Will there be a chance to go out and try and find the Jimmy Wilkerson of the 2010 free agency class? Absolutely. He was a guy that we signed for a smaller salary. He went under the radar. No one in Tampa really knew or cared that we signed Jimmy Wilkerson that day. I think at the end of last year people were like, ‘Hey, this Jimmy Wilkerson has become a good football player. Where did they get him?' Those (signings) are just as important as stealing practice squad players or anything you can do to improve your football team. We are always going to be looking for that kind of a guy. That would be important."
Wilkerson has totaled 11 sacks in the past two seasons as a backup and starter for Tampa Bay before tearing his ACL at New Orleans in December. Wilkerson, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2010, was on the bench for his first five NFL seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, and had only one sack in those five years.
A number of notable Buccaneers will likely be forced to play under one-year tenders in the 2010 season. Left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams, wide receiver Maurice Stovall, and linebacker Barrett Ruud are all going to be tendered contracts as restricted free agents. Any team that signs those players would have to give draft pick compensation to Tampa Bay. That will severely limit the possibility of any of those players signing with another team.
While some might say that top performers like Penn, Ruud and Williams are being treated unfairly, the situation is the result of the deal the players agreed to with the NFL. The restricted status in the uncapped year was put in as incentive for the NFLPA and the league to get a new deal done and avoid losing the opportunity to be an unrestricted free agent. Instead of unrestricted free agency occurring after accruing four years in the league, players must wait until they have six years in the NFL to become unrestricted free agents.
"Certainly it is the situation we are in," Dominik said. "It is not like owners are saying, 'Let's make it really hard on Donald Penn,' or the team says, 'Let's make it hard on Donald Penn.' These are the rules that we live by. We don't know if we are living by these rules from now going forward. We don't know if we get them when we get a new CBA extension. What if free agency is five years, or six years [in the future]? No one knows. To sit there and say this person is not getting treated fairly, how do we know what fair is? We have to live in what we are in right now. The facts are you need six years (experience) for unrestricted free agency. It has been known that it was coming to this obviously when the owners opted out of the CBA agreement. This was something that was plausible, and we don't know what that means going forward in the hopes that we do strike a new CBA or whatever happens with the labor talks.
"Who knows? Free agency may still be six years. You just don't know, so in that capacity, the nice thing through the league office with the tenders and the way we can tender the original tender, the second-round tender, the first-round tender, the first- and third-round tender, and those numbers aren't bad numbers. A first and third generally is going to be around $3 million dollars. That's not terrible."
Since the Buccaneers owners, the Glazer family, purchased the soccer club Manchester United, there have been some allegations that the Buccaneers are avoiding spending money on free agents and players due to the price of purchasing one the most popular sports organizations in the world. Dominik said Tampa Bay is not limited financially in free agency, and has not lost one of its own player it wanted to keep because of finances.
"Ownership has never mandated anything on the contracts that we offer out or who we pursue and can go after," Dominik said. There is a discipline with this organization. Who has this team lost in free agency in recent years that has really crushed this organization? I don't think there is a name that I can sit here and say. That is not a disrespect to any player that has been through this door, but there hasn't been that guy with a ‘Why didn't they keep this guy? What were they thinking?' It just hasn't happened here. I can't think of one. I don't see that going forward, either."
Dominik said he does not believe the team is going to use the franchise or transition tag this year. The Buccaneers' main unrestricted free agents are Wilkerson, wide receiver Antonio Bryant and linebacker Angelo Crowell, who has already stated his desire to remain a Buc after missing his first season in Tampa Bay due to a torn biceps. He also added it is too early to say if any of those players, or the restricted free agents, could be signed to a long-term extension. He believes that good football players eventually get rewarded with another lucrative contract at some point in their careers. Good players have longevity and earn the contract.
Even though there isn't a salary cap, Dominik believes there would be players released around the NFL due to their salary. There are a few Buccaneers that are candidates to be released. The list that Pewter Report has compiled could include quarterback Byron Leftwich, wide receiver Michael Clayton, cornerback Torrie Cox, defensive tackle Ryan Sims, defensive tackle Chris Hovan and potentially others. Tampa Bay will cut some players prior to free agency, and Dominik feels the expiration of the salary cap won't save players from getting released by teams.
"I think at the end of the day every club has to look at their player, and say what is there value? Regardless of if they think they can go replace that person in free agency or the draft, or if they have another player on the roster," Dominik said. "They have to look at the value of each person individually and determine what is their worth if they come to the conclusion that this person is not worth ‘X' and that is what they are getting paid, then they have to make a determination. That's how I think everybody should look at it regardless of your cap ramifications (or no salary cap)."
While the Buccaneers are not planning on a big overhaul in free agency, other teams will be forced into a restricted situation due to the CBA. The final four teams: the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, the Indianapolis Colts, the Minnesota Vikings, and New York Jets are extremely limited in who they can sign. The other four teams in the final eight: the Dallas Cowboys, the Arizona Cardinals, the San Diego Chargers, and the Baltimore Ravens, are also limited in what they can do in free agency.
"The final four teams can't sign an unrestricted free agent until they lose one," Dominik said. "They can sign their own players, but they can't sign a player from another team until they lose a free agent to another team. Then it is also determined by the amount of the contract that the person got. So if the Saints lost a minimum salary defensive tackle, that is all they get to sign.
"The next four clubs are limited to one player at a bigger number. After that it is restrictive. For the top eight teams it pretty much takes them out of the running for whoever is perceived to be the top free agents."
While many have believed that no salary cap could cause massive spending sprees by big market teams, there is the belief that teams, including the Buccaneers, not having to meet a salary floor will be a more prevalent result of the dissolution of the salary cap. Dominik said the restrictions on the teams and players are the rules that both parties agreed to in their negotiations. Thus, neither side is in an unfair situation.
"These are rules bargained by NFL Players Association and the NFL," Dominik said. "[The word] 'rules' almost sounds punitive, but it is what it is. It is what we all agreed to. That is what we are working under."
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.